Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables: Bill Basquin’s Photographs at the Dump
Surprisingly, the Tunnel Road dump smelled a little ripe when I visited there last week to check out The Way of All Flesh, Bill Basquin’s photo exhibit. My husband is a contractor so I’ve been to a few dumps in my time and in my experience the Norcal Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center on Tunnel Road in San Francisco is actually one of the least odiferous ones. Colma’s a bit stinkier and don’t even get me started on the big landfill near Dixon on Highway 113. But Tunnel Road is curiously fragrance-free most of the time, perhaps due to some errant breezes blowing off the ocean a little ways away.
Anyways, Bill Basquin’s show was the end product, so to speak, of his four-month residency at the Tunnel Road dump, sponsored by San Francisco’s Recycling & Disposal Artist-In-Residence program. The dump’s AIR program, which has been in operation since 1990, hosts several local artists each year in a nice big studio with a woodshop and all of the trash they can handle. Artists get a monthly stipend and are free to use whatever they can dig out of the adjacent dump site to make art. I’ve seen several shows there, including Donna Keiko Ozawa’s extra-cool crank-handle sculptures (way back in 2001) and Paul Cesewski’s bicycle-powered circus installation (just last year) and each artist transforms the space in his or her own way. By repurposing the waste stream and finding usefulness in discards, the SF Recycling & Disposal AIR program’s undercurrent of anticonsumerism is all too relevant in these days of late capitalism gone awry.
Bill’s exhibit mainly consisted of images of the rotting produce that he composted on-site, then photographed up close and personal. The resulting large-scale color prints, in frames constructed from wood scavenged from the dump, are both fascinating and repellent, with each fruit or vegetable’s decaying carcass so closely rendered you can almost smell them. Some of the photos, like “Banana Pair, O weeks,” keep a wary distance from the subject, while others, such as “Moldy Avocado,” bring the viewer so close that the prosaic subject matter becomes a furry mass of color and texture. But while the fruits and veggies have lost their original shape and form, both through decomposition as well as through Basquin’s intimate portraiture, the photos never sink to simple abstraction. Each desiccated corpus pretty much retains its connection to its origins as a living plant, though some are much farther along than others. Bill Basquin grew up on a farm in the Midwest and his photography reflects an awareness of the planet’s oscillations perhaps less evident to the urban dweller. His loving close-ups of moldy plant matter serve as microcosmic reminders of the cycle of degeneration and rebirth that we city folk too often forget.